Food fight

Making meal time fun

Helping parents deal with fussy eaters is child’s play for nutritionist Fern Rodrigues. Fern runs monthly kids cooking workshops at the Co-op (on hold at the moment due to lockdown) and is a food scientist and children’s educator. In her practice, Eat, Play, Learn, Nutrition she specialises in challenging eating (aka fussy eating) in young children, from birth to 6 years old, and uses gentle but effective strategies to help parents gain control of their children’s nutrition with confidence. We asked Fern about her background and for some advice.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about your background in food science and nutrition? 

Fern: I graduated as a Food Technician in 1991 and then as a Bachelor in Industrial Chemistry in 1999. Those qualifications allowed me to work in the food additives industry for 22+ years. I worked as a flavourist for more than ten years, developing flavourings for food products. I have large experience in recipe development and sensory analysis (food testing). Nutrition always permeated throughout the projects I was involved in.

Q: How did you get interested in children’s nutrition?

Fern: In 2011 I watched a documentary about eating disorders. All five people featured in it, adults by then, had their disorder rooted in childhood. I had already been looking for a career change for a while, so that was when it clicked. I stood up and actually said it aloud to myself in the tv room that I was going to become a children’s nutritionist and help as many children as I could so they would never feature in a documentary like that! So, after moving to Australia in late 2011, I studied Children’s Services and have been working for 7 years in childcare as an educator and as a cook. Experience that I combined with my Bachelor degree in Food & Nutrition, attained in 2019, as part of my project to become a children’s nutritionist.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about what you do at Eat Play Learn Nutrition?

Fern: I’m the founder and sole nutritionist of Eat Play Learn Nutrition, a nutrition practice that specialises in childhood fussy eating. I help parents to understand and overcome fussy eating with confidence. The way I do that is recommending strategies that research has shown to address eating pattern issues often seen in the early years. Putting it simply, I guide families in making eating/feeding habit changes at an appropriate time and pace so their children can develop and sustain a positive relationship with food, hopefully for life!

Q: What are your top tips for getting fussy eaters to enjoy meal times?

Fern: I strive to remind adult carers that no one enjoys being patrolled, controlled, watched, criticised. Especially during meals. How would YOU feel if there was someone looking over your shoulder as you eat your dinner? Anxious, nervous, upset, even angry, I bet! And you would not feel much like eating let alone eating well. So, my approach is to help parents allow their child to relax at meal times. For that, the adults must make sure they:

– offer appropriate food (e.g. safe temperature and texture, enough quantity, nutrient-dense)

– let the child decide what and how much to eat from what is on offer

– let go of any food related conversations during meal times

Easier said than done, I know, but once you put it into motion it soon starts to make sense and the other pieces fall into place, especially because you can see the change in behaviour right in front of your eyes.

Q: What’s your favourite easy and nutritious recipe that kids just love?

Fern: This may cause controversy, but you asked what’s MY FAVOURITE easy and nutritious recipe that I know KIDS JUST LOVE, so it is banana bread!!!! I make one that uses just the fruit’s skin and is packed full of goodness, even with the sugar content, and is delicious! Especially if served with ice cream made from 100% frozen banana pulp! There is no kid who will ever refuse that! 🙂

For recipes by Fern and other food inspiration check out our How to Cook section.

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